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Building Dreams: Jeffrey Teo

Behind the scenes of the Singtel Waterfront Theatre at Esplanade

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Published: 16 Aug 2022

By: Jane Ng


Time taken : <5mins

The construction of the Singtel Waterfront Theatre (SWT) is the most rewarding job that project manager Jeffrey Teo has ever done, despite the difficulties he faced.

Jeffrey, 46, who has been in the construction line for 20 years, works for Expand Construction, the main contractor for SWT. His job as the project lead is to manage the construction team and liaise with all parties involved in the project including sub-contractors and workers. 

In the last three years, he has had to overcome multiple challenges which had serious impact on the building and construction industry. These included delays in the delivery of materials, manpower shortages, as well as government regulations and restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

When the pandemic made its way around the world in 2020, work on the theatre was in its early stages with much of the building materials yet to be delivered. With one country after another hit by Covid-19, lockdowns and travel restrictions resulted in a severe delay in the delivery of construction materials.  The ceiling panels were from Poland, seat decking from Germany and theatre seats from the United Kingdom, just to name a few.

Even when materials such as precast components were from as near as Johor Bahru, Malaysia, there were hiccups and the construction was affected as the country went into lockdown and factories were shut. By the time the factories were up and running again three months later, some of their workers had quit, machines were not functioning well, and the factories had to deal concurrently with a backlog of orders from other companies, said Jeffrey. 

“The delivery schedule was badly affected because of each country’s lockdown. A lot of the things were beyond our control. We often had to improvise along the way, change or even cancel our plans,” said Jeffrey.

The precast structural components from Malaysia that were delayed had caused a further hold up to other parts of the construction downstream. 

After reviewing the situation, Jeffrey decided to cancel the order and use the more labour-intensive process of cast-in-situ concrete so that work could proceed. He had the workers cast the structural columns onsite by pouring concrete into molds.  

Apart from materials, another issue was manpower crunch which was exacerbated when the workers’ work permits expired, they decided to return home and it was difficult to replace them during the pandemic. At one point, he had to work with just 60 per cent of the workforce, said Jeffrey. 

Another issue was the need to keep the workers safe during the pandemic. After the Circuit Breaker period (from April to June 2020), he asked the workers to stay on site to prevent mingling with workers from other sites so to reduce the risk of infection spread. 

Expand Construction applied for the site office to be converted to Temporary Living Quarters for the workers, a measure rolled out by the Ministry of Manpower to help employers cope with the sudden challenges faced during the pandemic. Wi-Fi was installed so that the workers who stayed on site for almost a year, could regularly contact their families in India and Bangladesh.  

He also had to ensure workers kept up with the safe distancing measures, took their temperatures twice a day and sanitised their hands frequently.  

Despite the challenges faced, there was a silver lining—the team pulled together and put in extra hours to finish the project. 

“We didn’t ask them to stay back. They would come to me sometimes with issues and we may have discussed until 8 or 9pm. Together, we worked hard because we wanted to deliver on what have promised. I truly appreciate the team for their support and contributions,” he said.

As the project comes to an end, Jeffrey’s days of daily site inspection walks are also over. 

He will not miss the construction complications in the last few years, but he will miss his favourite view from the Level 3 dressing room balcony, which has what he calls “the best view from SWT where you can see the whole of Marina Bay, and more.” He says,

It hasn’t been an easy project to do, but the difficulties made it all the more satisfying when the work is done. I would say it has been a very worthwhile, special and iconic project for me.

Check out the productions at the Singtel Waterfront Theatre at Esplanade as part of In New Light, happening from 12 Oct – 31 Dec 2022.

Building Dreams

Building Dreams is a special photography exhibition at the new Singtel Waterfront Theatre at Esplanade, where we go behind-the-scenes to find out who was involved and what went into the building of the theatre.

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